QU holds discussion about racism in maternal healthcare

Ashley Pelletier, Associate Arts and Life Editor

On Feb. 9, the Quinnipiac University Department of Cultural and Global Engagement held a panel called “Racism in Healthcare: Addressing Maternal Mortality in the United States” to discuss the stark difference in birth experiences for Black women in the U.S. 

The webinar was mainly directed at healthcare workers, specifically Quinnipiac medical and nursing students, and how they can ensure that Black women receive equal treatment throughout their pregnancy and birth process. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women faced a much higher rate of maternal mortality between the years 2007 and 2016, with almost 41 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies compared to white women facing less than 13 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies. Deaths that are counted in these statistics include deaths during pregnancy, during birth or one year postpartum. 

“I knew there were health disparities in HIV, cervical cancer and STDs,” said Lucinda Canty, who holds a doctorate in nursing, is a certified nurse midwife (CNM) and teaches at the University of St. Joseph during the panel. “I was unaware of the disparities in maternal health. I was blindsided by it … I always thought (it) had happened elsewhere.”

The women on the panel discussed several reasons why Black women face higher rates of maternal mortality. A considerable reason that this problem exists is a myth spread in the 1800s. Scientists of the era, particularly J. Marion Sims, perpetuated the belief that Black people feel less pain than white people. 

According to an article from the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, many white healthcare workers still believe this false notion. The author cites the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ findings that Black people receive 40% worse care in several quality rankings in U.S. hospitals. 

SciHonor Devotion, interdisciplinary doula and founder of Earth’s Natural Touch: Birth Care and Beyond, talked about one specific instance in which a pregnant Black woman’s concerns were ignored. Lashonda Hazard went to Women and Infants’ Hospital in Rhode Island, complaining of severe stomach pain, but was disregarded by healthcare officials, leading to the death of her and her child in the hospital. 

“The thread is (Black women) are just being ignored,” Devotion said. “(Healthcare professionals) aren’t believing Black women. We know from history that there’s this belief that Black women can deal with pain … and it still shows up today. It seems like it’s really simple to not actually believe that, but when you ask medical residents, they believe it. These are the people that are out there caring for our families. It still exists. It’s still happening.”

The biggest idea that the panel pushed for was treating Black women with empathy. They pleaded with future nurses and doctors to treat Black women with care even though they may not have been taught to do so. 

During Black History Month, the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement is holding several similar discussions, including “The Problem with Race-Based Medicine,” a keynote event presented by Dorothy Roberts. Roberts is a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania and is known for her work in social justice and public policy. 

“I don’t care what profession, whether you’re going to be a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a doctor,” Canty said. “I don’t care if you’re already those things, there’s a problem in our society. Healthy women are going in and they’re dying giving childbirth, and we’re in a system that’s not alarmed by it, that’s not even standing up to do action. So I’m just saying,…wherever you sit, wherever you plan to be, look at yourselves first and look at what you’re doing to contribute to what is happening to (Black) women … This is not 20 years ago … This is still happening.”